What's Killing the Coral - The Process

Last updated on Sun, 2014-04-20 04:02. Originally submitted by Jenny on 2011-06-17 16:09.

modified by Jessica Haapkyla 2014-02-05

 Your team will:

1.     Research the biology and geographic distribution of reef-building corals

2.     Research why coral reefs are important and what threatens them

3.     Research the diseases of reef-building corals

4.     Research sustainable management of coral diseases and coral reefs

5.     Develop a plan to study the effect of one method of reversing coral reef loss

6.     Create a presentation to secure funding for your study

Divide the tasks 1 though 4 among your group members so that each person has one research task. Work together to complete tasks 5 and 6.


Task 1. The Biology and Geographic Distribution of Reef-Building Corals


1. Where are coral reefs found?

Coral reefs are found in tropical and subtropical waters between latitudes 30°N and 30°S. To visualize the geographic distribution of coral reefs please go to the OBIS and UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre’s (GCMC) web sites. Use the information at these sites to explain how geography may be affecting the survival of coral species. To search for coral data on the OBIS web site, open the url http://www.iobis.org/mapper/ add the Order “Scleractinia” (i.e. corals) in the “taxa” area of the search criteria box. You need to limit the latitude and longitude to 30°N and 30°S (use the region criteria to enter a box 30N, 180 E, -30 S, -180W ), and the limit the sample depth to 100 m (use the oceanography criteria with sample depth from 0 to 100m) . A following video link also demonstrates how to search for data on the OBIS web site http://vimeo.com/66901394. 


2. What kind of animals are corals? Corals are tiny animals (polyps) that may form huge colonies. Microscopic phytoplankton, zooxanthellae, that live within the coral polyp give them nutrition and their color. Explore more on the biology of reef-building corals at NOAA web site.


Task 2. Why are coral reefs important and what threatens them


1. Why are coral reefs important to humans?

Humans may not eat coral, but humans depend on coral reefs in many ways. For instance, reefs provide millions of people with food, protect the coastline from storms and are an important source of income for local economies often situated in developing countries. Find out more about the importance of coral reefs at NOAA and at Reef Relief’s web sites.


2. What threatens coral reefs?

Today the world’s coral reefs are severely threatened by human activities. Climate change and ocean acidification are the biggest challenges faced by coral reefs. The whole existence of coral reefs as they are today is on stake. Find out more detailed information about ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures and other threats at NOAA and at the Coral Reef Alliance web site.


Task 3. Diseases of Reef-Building Corals


 1.     What is coral disease?

A disease is defined as an abnormal condition of an organism that impairs organism functions, associated with specific signs and symptoms (adapted from Dorland, 1982). The color of a diseased coral has often changed or the coral manifests skeletal damage and/or tissue loss.

2.What diseases threaten reef-building corals?

There are over 30 coral diseases found in the world. The Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific have some common diseases. For an overview of 27 global coral diseases, use the UNEP (GCMC) Global Coral Disease Database. 

This site also provides links to field guides that help in identifying and monitoring coral diseases.

3. What causes disease?

Diseases can be caused by biotic stressors such as bacteria, fungi and viruses or by abiotic stressors such as elevated seawater temperature, nutrient enrichment and increased sedimentation. These factors can also act together in a synergistic way leading to disease. However, the mechanism of coral death due to disease is not well understood.

Read more about coral diseases and their causes at NOAA web site and at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) web site. Learn more about why it is important to understand microbial pathogens. Lean more on how environmental stressors such as nutrient enrichment and algal overgrowth may cause coral disease.

Task 4. Sustainable Management Methods


1. What are some possible sustainable management methods for coral disease?

The impact that coral diseases can have on the reef environment highlight an urgent need to develop proper management tools for coral diseases. This is not an easy task due to the nature of coral diseases compared to terrestrial diseases.

Read more about coral disease management issues and what has been tried to control disease outbreaks.


 2. What are some possible sustainable management methods for increasing reef health?

Promoting a healthy reef environment is the key to managing coral disease. In Australia, management of coral disease on the Great Barrier Reef is done through increasing the resilience of the reef. Find out what is being done on the U.S. coral reefs to mitigate coral reef loss due to pollution and coral disease. Choose one management method from the list on NOAA activities on the right hand side as the focus of your research project design.

Task 5. The Plan

Since you are a team of research scientists, your plan will need the following parts:

1.     Research question- State the question that your research project will answer.

2.     Background information- Provide information that someone would need to know in order to understand your plan. Be sure to cite sources of information. This is the place to put information about coral reef biology, geographic distribution, human dependence on coral reefs, and sustainable management methods.

3.     Hypothesis- A statement that describes the expected outcome of your project.

4.     Materials- What you will need to conduct your research or implement your project and why these are essential.

5.     Procedure- List the steps you would take to conduct your research.

6.   Why your team thinks the plan will work- Link this to coral reef survival and sustainability. Show a cause and effect relationship.


Task 6. The Presentation

Now it's time to sell your plan. There's only so much money to go around. Will your presentation convince the foundation to fund your research? Your presentation should include all the elements of your team's plan. Use visual aids such as maps, pictures, charts, tables, and/or an outline of key points. The presentation may be done with the use of a computer-based presentation program or overhead transparencies. Each person should be responsible for presenting at least one part of the plan.

Photo credits: Mike Flavell

OBIS is a project of:
IODE Sponsored by:
Martin International and Les Grands Explorateurs
With in-kind support from:
Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, Duke University
Universidad Simón Bolívar Flanders Marine Institute

OBIS strives to document the ocean's diversity, distribution and abundance of life. Created by the Census of Marine Life, OBIS is now part of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, under its International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) programme.